Susan and Linda Deery took swimming lessons at the YMCA with us, shared rides down the hill. Linda was my age, Susan a year or so older than Kathy. Linda coiled her braids up under her cap like a life ring. Susan’s hair was thick with broom curls springing out. I struggled through Junior Life-Saving, couldn’t tug the drowning man pool-side, though I got him off the bottom okay. The instructor said I just needed a little more weight. We all knew her reputation – a car ahead of her went off the bridge on the Cowlitz. She didn’t give it a thought, dove off the rail, pulled a water-logged family out of the steel depths, two at a time. You have to admire somebody like that. How many chances do you get?
That August Susan got swept down by an avalanche in Alaska, nothing poking up when the roaring stopped. Her folks were climbing a mountain in Oregon and couldn’t be told, snowfield drifting to silence, bones going cold. Linda had to wait alone, diving, diving into some dream of water, dark, clear, shining, the air above her brimming with light, sister in the crook of her arm.
They said Susan was doing what she wanted. But how is that enough, when it’s your sister, how is that ever enough?
Carol Barrett holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and creative writing, and teaches at Union Institute & University. Her book, Calling in the Bones won the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. Poems have appeared in JAMA, Poetry International, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, The Women’s Review of Books and elsewhere.